Shimlas, Ixias geared for 2023 VC

The UFS Shimlas captain, Thabang Mahlasi, on the charge against the CUT Ixias during the 2022 Varsity Cup derby. This the Bloemfontein derby will be played on 27 March at Shimla Park. PHOTO: MORGAN PIEK

The 2023 Varsity Cup is just weeks away and for the two Bloemfontein-based teams, it’s another opportunity to showcase the talent and also reinforce the value that the Free State brings to the competition.

The University of the Free State will once again fancy their chances in the hugely popular tournament after coming agonisingly close last year.

The Shimlas were favourites to win the competition for a second time after finishing at the top of the table in the round-robin phase, with seven wins in their nine games. Sadly, they stumbled in the semi-finals by losing 29-21 to the eventual champions, the University of Pretoria Tuks, in Bloemfontein.

For the Central University of Technology Ixias, it will be a very important season after they managed to dodge a bullet last year by avoiding relegation.

The Ixias – who did so well the previous couple of seasons – finished the round-robin stages as the wooden-spooners and they could not manage to win a single one of their nine games.

The Ixias are now under the guidance of the astute Melusi Mthethwa who was at one stage in his coaching career an understudy of sorts to André Tredoux, the man who nearly led the Shimlas to the title last year.

Mthethwa was an assistant coach at the Toyota Cheetahs until last year and will be serving as the head coach of a major team for the first time. He is also currently assistant coach to Pieter Bergh at the Griquas – the man who brought a tremendous amount of success to the Ixias. In his debut season as the head coach of the Peacock Blues, Bergh led the team from Kimberley to the Currie Cup final last year.

Mthethwa told Bloemfontein Courant that while there are challenges in putting a team together, it is important to start the season with a bang by beating the ever-difficult University of Witwatersrand (Wits) in their opening game of the season, which will be played at home.

“The first game is at home and we are excited about that,” said Mthethwa.

“It’s important to win your home games – that is important in any competition. You’ve got to do the right things first and if you are winning your home games you’ve got a chance. You don’t want to focus on things that are way ahead in the future. We are going to take it one game at a time, but winning a home game in round one will bring a lot of confidence to the team.”

The Shimlas in their turn will be on the road in round one when they travel to tackle the champions Tuks in Pretoria. Tredoux, in his turn, is confident that as a coaching team, they have identified their shortcomings from the previous campaign. They are hopeful that addressing this will allow them to go a few steps further this time around.

“The take-aways from last year is that we want to be a bit more adaptable in terms of tactics,” said Tredoux.

“It’s just the tactical ability of the boys to be able to adjust to any circumstances. We’ve also been working hard on our principal five and six, in terms of our decision-making and communication. The boys are keen to get going and we are looking forward to a great competition.”

The 2023 Varsity Cup kicks off on 20 February with this match between Tuks and the Shimlas being the opening game of the competition. This game in Pretoria kicks off at 17:00. At 19:00 the Ixias will entertain Witsies at CUT Park in Bloemfontein. – MORGAN PIEK